Friday, January 23, 2009

The Principle of Reciprocity

"You scratch my back & I'll scratch yours."

That old saying always left me feeling a little creeped out because I always associated it with corrupt politicians. But I have come to realize that friendship is the key to so much in life. If you look at reciprocity as a part of a friendship, you begin to see the power of it.

I'm wrapping up a $2,000,000 project at my company and looking for my next project. During the course of the two years this project has been going, I have worked with many people. Some of them have been a joy to work with, some have been a real challenge. This one person was a little of both. Whenever I talked to him it just seemed like I couldn't pin him down on anything. I'd leave a meeting thinking we'd worked out the impact to his area, then a week later I'd find out he was off onto something new. Eventually I realized that there was no easy answer and that he was "peeling the onion" as it were to figure out how best to meet a regulatory requirement while keeping the cost to the company as low as possible. So rather than the "waffler" I at first thought him to be, he was actually very conscientious & thorough in his job. This was proven to me when I saw that he had been promoted a month or two ago.

I called to say hello and congratulate him on his promotion. He was in a great mood and was very happy to talk about it. After he had "talked my ear off" he took a breath and asked if there was anything he could do for me? It turned out there is a project I was looking at that he is involved with. His vice president was looking for someone to take on the project. I let him know I would love to and we are in the process of putting it together.

This is a perfect example of the principle of reciprocity.

I gave my business associate a chance to talk about something he is passionate about: himself and his recent success. After he had "talked my ear off" it was like he had just enjoyed Thanksgiving feast. He was happy. Since I had been the one to let him feel this happiness, he felt obligated to return the favor. Luckily, there was something he needed that I can help with. So his sense of obligation to me motivated him to take some action on my behalf.

Now would this have worked if I had waited till the next day to call him back and ask a favor of him?

No. Reciprocity only works immediately after the other person shares his or her joy with you. Just like Thanksgiving feast, by the next morning you are hungry again. You no longer feel a sense of obligation to the other person.

Timing is just so important in relationships with other people. If you mess up your timing, rather than adding joy and happiness to your relationship, you may be putting a sense of burden or resentful obligation on the other person. Same request, but the emotions are different, and the request is different.